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What Do We Really Need?—The Case for Slow Fashion

Take a moment to stand in front of your closet.

At this very moment, how many articles of clothing do you own? 

Opportunities like this may not arise very often, so take an honest count! 

Among these items, how many do you like?

And among those you like, how many do you honestly love?

Next, take out any items that you don’t remember when or where you purchased that have been neglected in the back of your closet, or items that have not been worn for several years.

This is the last step. Among the remaining items, how many can you imagine yourself wearing five or even ten years into the future? Actually try to imagine yourself at that age. 

 

But will these items retain their current condition and maintain their function as clothing so long from now? 

 

You may be shocked by the number of items that have failed to meet these few criteria.

How do you feel when you see these clothes?

Where are they destined to go?

 

Why is it that we continue to collect clothing that will fail such a simple test in a matter of months or even days? Why is it that, even with an overflowing wardrobe, there are only a handful of items that will capture your permanent affection? 

 

—Do we even need this much clothes?

I’ve loved clothing since I was little. I think I was heavily influenced by my mother, who would operate six sewing machines for her childrens clothing brand. Having nice clothing gave me confidence, and especially in my younger years when I was more heavily affected by outer looks, clothing served as a shortcut to becoming a “lovely girl.” In my childhood I would often think “I want more clothes!” And so my mother would go and purchase fabrics, design clothing templates, and make me durable and stylish childrens clothes with perfect precision. However, as I became olders and entered middle school, I came to prefer so-called “fast fashion” clothing that were cheap (though at the time I doubt I was thinking of what’s cheap versus what’s expensive), abundant, and so elegantly advertised by skinny foreign models. 

 

“Fast fashion.”

 

I was ignorant to the meaning and reality hidden behind those words, and seeing my closet fill up with new clothes made my heart swell. It wasn’t until I became a high schooler that I came to realize that my closet full of clothing was actually making my heart poorer, and leading me away from that truly “lovely girl” I should strive to be. 

As fate would have it, I had many opportunities to learn about fashion and the environment. Though I was appalled by the miserable truth hidden behind the brilliant facade of the fashion industry and the cruel reality of our mass production and consumption culture, what I found most shocking was the fact that it is ignorant and indifferent consumers, like myself, that are making this situation worse. It was then that I realized how cruel the words “I didn’t know” and “I didn’t mean to” can be. 

It was true that I didn’t know and that I didn’t mean to contribute to this reality. But in truth, even if we don’t mean to do so, we hurt our neighbors, force suffering upon people who live miles away, and betray Mother Earth, forgetting the debt we owe her. And it could be that this betrayal and hurt is an inevitable reality of human life. After all, we live each day surrounded by things we “don’t know.” (As a matter of fact, I doubt that there is a single thing that we “truly know.”)

But we can overcome ignorance and greatly reduce the negative impact that we might otherwise create just by asking a simple question like “Where did this clothing come from?” 

By asking myself a simple question about clothing, researching, coming up with an answer for myself, leading to new questions, more research, and repeating this cycle over and over, I was able to reach the question I asked you in the beginning. 

“Do we even need this much clothes?”

Take a look at the clothing that, with luck, survived the earlier test. They are sure to be items that you love or pieces containing priceless memories. In my current closet, I have pieces handmade by my mother, thrifted clothing, items I’ve upcycled, pieces that I purchased with my savings in spite of the hefty price tag, and hand-me-downs from my mother. As for those pieces I purchased because I was swayed by an advertisement or a cheap price tag, I ended up getting bored of them because they didn’t truly feel like “me”—tossing them out because they wore out easily or dropping them into a donation box at a store without thinking about where those donations end up just to make myself feel like I’ve done something altruistic. (For those who don’t know the reality behind clothing donations, please take a moment to do some research.)

 

At the end of the day, what remained in my closet were high quality items. When I say “high quality items,” I don’t just mean expensive or luxury pieces. I’m talking about pieces that are made with love and care, that will continue to maintain their quality condition. Feeling affection for such items comes naturally. I think people tend to find things that they have used for a long time to be more valuable over time. This property translates to the things that you wear as well. This is also the reason that I find it more appealing when I see people wearing a handful of garments with care over a long time than to see people wearing the same instagrammable trends as models advertise. Though a high quality garment is more expensive than a fast fashion item, you can wear it for longer, love it more, and appeal to others as your most authentic self, making the purchase a net positive. 

The honest truth is that fast fashion is “too cheap,” and the sustainable and high quality clothing that we find “a tad expensive” is marked at the price we should be paying. By closely examining what clothes we really need, upcycling items that are worn out or no longer appealing, and treating each item with love and care, the cycle of consumption can be slowed dramatically, making the initial price tag worth it. If you have the time, take a look at some articles and documentaries on the fashion industry and the environment. They are sure to open your eyes to just how outrageous it is to only pay several hundred yen for a garment. 

Recently, “sustainability” has become a trend, leading to some fast fashion brands singing dubious praises to sustainable production. What’s most important is to reduce your personal consumption, rather than running to purchase the same number of items as before, believing that “it’s okay because it’s sustainable!”

If you come across a favorite piece that you want to pass down to your child someday, or if you can make it into an item you love on your own, you may not need as many garments in your wardrobe as you think.

 

“It’s enough to have the clothes that you need, when you need them. Without compromising your personality or style, of course.”

 

Though I’ve written this entire article, I’m not a perfect environmental activist either. There have been times when I fell for temptations and done things that I know are bad for the environment, or fail to take actions I should be taking. My knowledge of the environment is also still lacking. Even still, I repeat the quote above to myself regularly, escape materialism—the hotbed of climate change and environmental destruction—as best as I can, and try to maintain a healthy spirit.

I’m not writing this article because I want everyone who reads it to become an environmental activist either. Environmental issues and human rights issues are complex, and people have a wide variety of opinions on these topics. Of course, as an environmental activist, I hope that more and more people will stand alongside me in opposition to environmental damage that has already gone too far. But it’s difficult to give up your current lifestyle for an entirely new one immediately, especially in current society. Making all these changes may even make you feel like you’re suffocating. If taking all of this new information into account causes you to lose your love of fashion, all the changes you made would be rendered moot. At the end of the day, the goal is to find a wardrobe that won’t burden both you and the environment. 

 

I hope that this article revealed a side of fashion that the glitz and glamour of social media has kept you from seeing before and that you become more mindful of your connection to clothing and people across the globe. 

I think that a heart that can be satisfied with less is the true secret to bringing out your unique beauty and shine. 

 

Isn’t it about time we slow down the world?

It has to be easier to slow down something fast than to do the opposite, right? 

Maybe it’s at times like these that you will be able slow down enough to see what it is that you really need.

 

In the next article, Risa is going to share her interview with an ICU student who is taking actions to start a new fashion business against environmental issues. Don’t miss it!  

Maasa Yamamoto

ICU Japan '24

I'm currently studying at International Christian University, majoring philosophy and religion. I simply love watching, creating, feeling, and listening to something artistic, and being in nature. And my biggest dream is living in Italy someday!
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